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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Cali G

COLOMBIA | Sunday, 20 May 2012 | Views [873]

After a lot of rushing around looking at apartments and going to job interviews, we thought we deserved a break and headed off to Cali in the south for a bit of sun and relaxation. Cali isn't very far as the condor flies and since condors don't have to go up and down 3 mountain ranges we thought we'd copy those clever condors and fly. It was a bit of an odd trip but that's for another post. Suffice to say we arrived well past midnight and fell into a deep reverie broken only by a friendly mosquito buzzing about reminding us that we were back in the weather one expects at this latitude. Sleeping under a single sheet was a throwback to previous days in the tropics, and spotting a hummingbird flitting about in the garden was an introduction to new ones ahead. The hostel was an odd affair, a lovely old house converted with ample mod-cons (jacuzzis in the bathrooms!). We found out rapidly that the much-vaunted Michelin chef had done a runner and the place was now being run by an avuncular Scot. It's fairly clear that being a hotelier is not his chosen vocation, but he made us feel extremely welcome and did so much for us in terms of sourcing information that he deserves to be a huge success. With a pool in the hostel and plenty of shady spots to work and chill out in, there wasn't much need to explore, but we fell down the hill to a nice area with an excellent little restaurant on the first day and found the zoo on our doorstep the next.

We've been to many zoos abroad which have disappointed and some which have shocked, but this was a delight. Dramatic or appropriate settings can really improve a place and this zoo was set in acres of verdant cloudforest with a river running through it. Several birds soared lazily overhead and iguanas ran free throughout the park. There's a heavy emphasis on Colombian animals so we saw the wild pigs called peccaries; a whole herd of the world's largest rodent – capybara-san (he holds a special place in our hearts from Japan); both puma and jaguar (both surprisingly small); new world monkeys with their twisting tails; playful tamarins; slithering snakes the size of barrels; roughhousing llama; dozing tapir; inquisitive anteaters; sleek otters and burrowing coati; mean old crocs and lizards; bears with their goggles and birds a plenty, including the giant condor, elegant flamingoes and toucans sadly not carrying guiness. There were also a clutch of visitors from Africa and North America, but those you know of already! It's clear that we will be priveliged and happy to see even a smattering of these animals whilst in the country. Visiting the zoo brought home just how megadiverse Colombia is, with snow-capped peaks, deserts, jungles and cloudforest.

With all of the magnificent wildlife still fresh in our minds we headed off to Yotoco National Park the following day. We'd been lured by the promise of 1100 red howler monkeys, but with our hangovers we were hoping they wouldn't howl too much. There's frustratingly little information on many of the national parks in Colombia, but the hostel had helped enormously with fact-finding. When we finally got to the entrance thanks to friendly and helpful bus drivers our socks were knocked off. The road that got us there also blights the park somewhat thanks to the trucks that thunder down it constantly but the facilities were top-notch. As seems normal in Colombia there was general confusion and no real sense of structure so we watched the end of the FA cup final and drank in the atmosphere. After a little while a guide appeared with little English but he then produced a photographer who could speak but was about to leave. He immediately changed his plans and took us into the forest after another half hour or so of indeterminate delay. Jose turned out to be an engaging and warm young man who knew the forest and the area well and spun us tales from his life and philosophy too. While it was tipping it down for much of the day, we managed to stay dry all through the walk. Just as we were drawing to a close, Jose veered off to the side on a hunch that some monkeys sometimes hung out near to the ranch. Sure enough, within five minutes we were watching a howler monkey feeding and leaping about in the canopy from our vantage point on a ridge. As usual with monkeys, photos were hard to capture. After we returned to the ranch and awkwardly paid, Jose did a quick interview with us (he used to be in TV, but decided against the bright lights of Bogota) for the park. Hopefully others will follow us – there's so much there to see.

Cali Town turned out to be somewhat unspectacular, though visiting on a Sunday was perhaps unwise. Almost everything was shut and there was a palpable aura of menace running through much of the town. With the Bradt guide being incredibly sketchy on maps, we had to follow our noses to get there and ended up strolling around on car-only huge roads in blazing heat to find a park, several closed bridges and finally a Church that was quite pretty. Eventually stumbling upon the route of the mass transit we assumed it must be the centre or near enough and we then searched in vain for somewhere halfway-decent to sit and have a coffee. We ended up making an enormous loop around the entire centre finding nowt but endless stalls of videos, sunglasses and vaguely shifty characters. Del and Rodders' sort of market this was not. By the time we'd got back to the foot of the hill taking us home we hailed a cab to the zona rosa of Cali, had a coffee milkshake each then pondered our next step. Just as the day seemed likely to slide away, a loud ping came from the cellphone!

It was a friend from Bogota, who's family hail from Cali. She provided her mother's number and said she'd ring later so we sloped to a bar to await the call. Whilst there, two genial Colombians joined us, explaining they'd seen us walking around earlier and that we were real individuals. The mood started off nicely but quickly deteriorated as they insisted on making lewd comments and cajoling us to dance and drink spirits with them. Given that they were tying one on at 3PM and we were off to meet grandmothers, we made our excuses and left, something we've always wanted to do. Eventually we sheltered in a Juan Valdez coffee shop to meet the family, who whisked us away across town to a fancy areperia. We loaded ourselves up on corn pancakes and chatted as well as we could across 2 languages, with Carmen's sister doing a sterling job of interpreting where necessary. It was a welcome reminder to work harder at Spanish and like most Colombians, the whole family were really good at speaking slowly and simply to help us out. After all that excitement, it was time to bid farewell to Cali by watching the apprentice back at the hotel, annotated by frequent outbursts from the aforementioned owner and forays by the house Rottweiler looking for company...a good trip all in all.

Tags: cali, drunks, howler monkeys, jacuzzis, mosquitos, pool, scots, walking, yotoco, zoo

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